Natalia Ryss is an artist, animator, and director from Rostov-on-Don, Russia, currently residing in Haifa, Israel. With her deep appreciation for German expressionism, folklore, horror, and the abstract, she has produced several wonderfully creative shortfilms. Her films utilize painting, cut-outs, and compositing shots and animating in Adobe After Effects.
After viewing Natalia's wonderful latest film, "Clock Face," and delving deeper into her list of films, I reached out to her for interview about her work and fims.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How and when did you get interested in creating art?
First of all, I would like to say a few words about the wonderful artist with whom we made the animated film “Clock Face” at studio Animos. Elena Uzdenikova is the main mastermind of the movie. These are her drawings on silk you see in the film - a lot of meters of silk!
Most of the characters from the first part of the film are real people she met on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I just developed the idea of clock going in the opposite direction by including hints on stories from legends and parables. Without her, this film would not exist. We have a script based on journey of Marco Polo and currently we are looking for producer and financing. See her Facebook page.
I decided to be an animator when I was 11. Children’s literature influenced my professional choice, first of all. It was kind of happiness amongst nothing, because of the absence of any trace of contemporary art in Rostov-on-Don. These were children's books by publishing houses of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria...European book illustration of the 70's.
Of course, I was a fan of watching animation on TV and went to the cinema with my parents, friends, or alone. For example, a school was giving subscriptions for free visits to the cinema (but only children's content) during the holidays. TV was black and white and showed only two Soviet channels.
I didn’t much like action films and narrative animation. I mostly watched something expressive or strange...or horrible, but there was a lack of such direction in available content and I imagined things like this in my head as compensation. But teenager’s folklore, ruthless and black, and also games were in abundance outdoors. We felt pleasure in retelling dreams or horrible stories, or books’ versions to each other.
Your cutout animations are incredible. What sparked your interest in this particular style?
There weren't any pure genres like horror or abstract art on TV. And mainly Soviet Realism in Rostov's museums, except such artists as world famous Martiros Saryan or the unknown, but genius Timofey Teryaev, who influenced all of us in Rostov a lot.
But by accident, you could bump into a thing like the film "Krabat," by Karel Zeman, or strange Estonian animation, some from Soviet puppet and cutout animation - I liked it more than classic cartoons. Alexandr Tatarsky appeared in TV a bit later :)
Also, I was fan of animals and zoology, and animalistic drawing. Even had experience (about 4-5 months just before VGIK) of working in the zoo as a teacher-animalist for children.
I adore cutout animation and appreciate it for laconism and symbolism of moving. Tendency of last time - to level, minimize, the difference between cutout and classical cartoon in way to pretend of drawing animation looks rather corny in most of cases.
Strengths of cutout lay in understatement, suddenness and unpredictability of phasing. The less detailed a character is, the more emotions it will generate when it begins to move. Moving shouldn't be describing the moving. It immobilizes the movie. I prefer to keep place for uncertainty and to pull out threads of logic even from simple plot during creating film. Something unexplained - instead of clear narration. I would compare the process with music creation or dreaming. Coming back to expressionism: “not aim, but bridge.”
Still from "The Magpie's Gossip"
Have you had any formal training in art/animation?
It was impossible to get into this profession in the middle of the 80's in Rostov-on-Don – only in Moscow. And animation books almost were not available. I accidentally bought one, "The Wisdom of Fiction" (interview with directors animators) that was very useful.
At first, I graduated art-college in Rostov-on-Don, design department – 4 years (and before that was 4 years of art school). It allowed getting enough skills in classical drawing and painting for studying in Moscow, Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (VGIK, 7 years else). We had an excellent art library in the art-college in Rostov-on-Don. I dug out a black and white Soviet edition of German expressionism! It left a stunning impression and impulse for creativity many years. Three of my films are made in this aesthetic, as a triptych. This is a key to visual style and substance of the films.
A bit about my time in VGIK: There wasn’t a director of animated film department in the end of 80's, just a department for artist of animated film, unfortunately. Now it has.
What was really great - is the opportunity to watch the best movies around the clock, read special literature for cinema, great exhibitions, cinemateca, etc. I owe a lot to the animation teachers there. We didn’t study computers at that time, but edited films by hand. Also, did classical animation and were known with all stadium of cartoon animation.
I had a useful experience of working in different studios of Moscow during and after VGIK. It was practice in various live styles of animation. I own such techniques as drawing on paper, painting on glass and wet paper. I made illustration in collage technique (from pieces of torn magazines) for one popular Moscow magazine in the end of 90's. I mostly have used this style for cutout since then. See more of my work here.
Still from "The Catfish and the Moon"
I understand you used After Effects for compositing (and I love your use of 'caustic' layers in the film Clock Face). Can you tell us a bit about your process?
Yes, I used After Effects for animation. We used an ordinary camera to shoot all material on silk for "Clock Face", because the scarfs were too big for a scanner. Here is the photo of shooting (not so good). We didn't use any special light. All details were cut out in Photoshop.
Natalia shooting a drawing on silk for "Clock Face"
I avoid such effects as Duik (and 3D) and prefer working very economic. Instead of that, I very often use effects of real video or photo as any filters, which I shoot by myself. Usually, it is shadows or light, or any surfaces or something indistinguishable.
I collect these objects and keep as series in case of use. Also all objects (background or characters) are handmade. It may be from series of wet drawing paper (“The Magpie’s Gossip”) or torn pieces of magazines (“Itsihitanantsu”, “The Catfish and the Moon”, “Piramidka”). I used After Effects for animation frame by frame and for compositing. I only minimally used software effects – only frame by frame and free improvisation.
What were you aiming to convey with the film Clock Face? What do you want viewers to remember about this work?
The narration of the story in this film was conceived as a procession of images without their deployment (like a layer-cake). The last thing I needed was to retell fragments of legends and parables. Conversely, this should create anchor points for unfolding associations without a didactic context. I thought it was close to the Jewish tradition - to go from insight to meaning with a great degree of interpretation.
This is absolutely outside the tradition of Russian animation - it is incomprehensible to them, mostly. There seems to be a stereotypical attitude to everything Jewish (whether plus or minus), but this is not close to me. My approach is the alien approach. This is my approach to any tradition. In Japan, the film was perceived well (perhaps they are also aliens), and the Vimeo Staff (I am incredibly grateful to them). And it fascinates children too.
What equipment/set-up do you use?
I used a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 camera and table with tiers for shooting drawings on glass in the film "Tucuman." Here is the last view of this table, in Rostov-on-Don, in 2014...and an example of shooting frames, wich was used in this film.
Camera and table with tiers
Still from "Tucuman"
I used only top lights for drawing on wet paper in the film "The Magpie's gossip." I made a lot of series of drawings. Every series was made frame by frame as drawing on one sheet of wet paper on glass under the camera in a process untill paper was drying - 20-30 changes for each sheet...and very quickly! Then I used every series as sequences for every detail of the characters and for background and made cutouts from these 'sandwiches.'
Still from "The Magpie's Gossip"
All was living in a frame, as a result - it created a "nervous" image surface in After Effects. It was a very laborious process. As far as I know, no one used this technique at that time (2006-7), at least in Russia.
In other films, I just scanned the torn fragments from magazines, then animated. I shot a series of filters with the same camera. I was interested in the shadows and different living surfaces. I also used a sequence of torn paper in several layers at different speeds and with offsets and unpredictable defocusing as a filter in all these films. The result was perceived as an old film (Itsihitanantsu), or impressionism (The Catfish and the Moon).
Still from "Itsihitanantsu"
Who or what inspires you?
Films by P.P. Pasolini, Brothers Quay, Georges Schwizgebel, German expressionism (art and cinema), Abstract expressionism, Giallo movies, Bauhaus, and many others.
My sincere thanks to Natalia for taking the time to answer my questions. Please be sure to view "Clock Face," as well as Natalia's other films.
Nick C Sorbin (Nick Charles) is a former Managing Editor of 9 years for Renderosity's CG Industry News. By day, a mild-mannered Certified Pharmacy Technician working in both home infusion and a hospital ER, contrasting creative outlets as a digital artist, sculptor, musician, singer/songwriter, and Staff Writer for Renderosity Magazine. Read his articles